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Warrior Woman: The Story of Lozen, Apache Warrior and Shaman

Warrior Woman: The Story of Lozen, Apache Warrior and Shaman

by Peter Aleshire

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Warrior Woman is the story of Lozen, sister of the famous Apache warrior Victorio, and warrior in her own right. Hers is a story little discussed in Native American history books. Instead, much of what is known of her has been passed down through generations via stories and legends.

For example, it is said that she was embued with supernatural powers, given to her by the gods. She would lift her arms to the sky and place her palms against the wind, and through the heat she felt in her open hands, she could detect the direction and distance of her enemies. Whether true or not, she did ride into battle alongside Geronimo in the Apache wars, and fought bitterly and savagely until she was captured along with her people, packed into railroad cars, and sent to imprisonment in the east, where she spent her last days.

Peter Aleshire uses historical facts and oral histories to recreate her life. With immaculate detail he tells the story of her childhood, surrounded by the vastness of nature and the Chiricahua legends and religions that shaped her thoughts. He describes her coming-of-age ceremonies, and induction into her tribe as a spiritual leader. As the white men slowly took over the land of her people and forced them from one reservation to another, her role slowly evolved to match that of the staunchest warrior -- an almost unheard-of occurence among the Native Americans of the 19th century, where a woman's place was with the children in the villages.

This is not only the story of Lozen, but the story of her people, from the events leading up to the Apache Wars until their inevitable and unfortunate conclusion.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250089144
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/30/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 454 KB

About the Author

Peter Aleshire is a respected and prolific journalist and author of two books, Reaping the Whirlwind and The Fox and the Whirlwind. He teaches in the Department of American Studies at Arizona State University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Mid-1830s

Near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico

First, there was White Painted Woman—who some people called Changing Woman.

    She lived, in the beginning, in a dangerous world.

    Maybe it was after a big flood that drowned all the People who came before, people who prayed to the wind and the lightning but who didn't know anything about Ussen, the Creator. Maybe it was after a flood that covered the world, right up to near the top of White Ringed Mountain where the receding waters left a white ring you can still see today. Many of the animals escaped the flood, even Turkey, whose tail was caught in the rising floodwaters and so remains tipped in white. But the only person who escaped was White Painted Woman, who went to the top of White Ringed Mountain and waited there for the waters to go down again.

    When White Painted Woman came down from the mountain, she found the world was full of monsters and dangerous creatures. So White Painted Woman prayed to Ussen, Life Giver, for guidance. And a spirit came to her and said, Lie down on your back and take off your clothes out there. You must have a child by the rain. Let the water fall on your navel. That boy, when he is born, you must call Child of Water. So she did.

    Then she had twins. One she called Child of Water, because his father was lightning and rain. The other child she called Killer of Enemies.

    It fell to White Painted Woman to protect her children from a fearsome giant, who came every day to hercamp—looking for children to eat.

    A Spirit had told her, Don't let the giant seize your children, for he is surely going to kill them. There is only one way to save your children. You must dig a hole under your fireplace and put the babies there, out of the way of the giant. When Child of Water is old enough, make a bow and arrow for him so he can kill this giant, along with the eagle and the buffalo and the antelope. When the child is old enough to shoot the arrow, let him and Killer of Enemies go out hunting.

    So she dug a hole under the fire where she could hide her children. Every day she waited and cried and thought how she could protect them.

    One day when Child of Water was nursing, he began to cry. She quieted him as quickly as she could, knowing the giant would hear him. Quickly she put Child of Water back under the fire.

    In just that moment, the giant came.

    He said, Ho, ho, ho, ho! I heard a baby cry here a while ago. Where is that baby?

    White Painted Woman looked directly at the giant and said, I am here all alone.

    But the giant replied, I heard a baby, crying.

    White Painted Woman, who was clever and brave, said, I am very, very lonely for a baby. I am all alone and imitated a baby crying.

    Let me hear you cry like a baby, said the giant.

    So she cried just like a baby.

    The giant did not quite believe her, but there was nothing he could do, so he went on his way, very suspicious.

    So White Painted Woman continued to care for her children, praying every day with all her heart that Ussen would keep them safe, and anxious for them to grow old enough to use their bows.

    After a long while, she brought out Child of Water again to play with him. She cleaned him with a piece of cloth, but in her rush to return her child to his sanctuary, she threw the cloth right down beside her.

    No sooner was the baby back than the giant returned. He saw the cloth she had used to clean the baby, with a greenish-yellow smear on it.

    There must have been a baby here, said the giant. There is its excrement on this cloth.

    White Painted Woman, thinking very quickly, answered, I am very lonely for a baby. I am trying to make that look like a baby's excrement.

    Show me how you did it, said the giant.

    So she went to the stalk of a sotol, which is long and hollow and sometimes full of bees. She broke open the stalk and took out the honey and put some of that honey on the cloth and showed it to the giant who could see it looked just like a baby's excrement. So she got the better of the giant once again.

    But then the giant looked down at the soft ground beside the fire where he saw the little baby's tracks and he said, Ho, ho! A baby's tracks!

    White Painted Woman, still thinking more quickly than the giant, said the same thing again: I am very, very lonely for a little baby and I made those tracks myself.

    Show me how you made those tracks, said the giant.

    She quickly made the track with the outside of her hand and put the toe marks on it with her fingers. It was just like a baby's footprint. So she fooled the giant once again.

    In this way, White Painted Woman protected her children until they grew old enough to pull back the bow. She survived because she knew when her enemy was approaching and could always think more quickly than the giant. Then she sat down and made bows for her children, singing over them so they would have Power. She gave each of the children a bow, which she had blessed.

    One day, Killer of Enemies and Child of Water went out hunting and killed a deer. The giant came right away to take their meat and to eat them as well. But Child of Water challenged the giant to a fight, matching his arrows made of gama grass against the giant's arrows made of pine trees. The giant fired four times, but each time the giant fired, Child of Water took a piece of blue stone he found at his feet and put it in his mouth. When he blew on the giant's arrows, they shattered and fell harmlessly at his feet. Child of Water then shot his four small arrows, each one shattering one layer of a four-layer coat of stone the giant wore. The final arrow pierced the giant's heart. Then Child of Water and Killer of Enemies went back to their mother, who had remained in the campsite worrying for them and praying. When she heard their story, she was so happy she began to dance and pray and sing.

    She sang, "What a happy day it is, to be bringing in such good news.

    Then White Painted Woman gave the high, long cry still heard at the girl's puberty ceremony, which was the first time this was done on earth, even before White Painted Woman and Child of Water made human beings.

    After that, Child of Water killed the giant buffalo, with the help of Gopher, who was the first gopher when animals talked as people, and who in his being expressed the Power that would animate all gophers to come. That was why animals in the future would still have Power that could help people who knew the proper prayers and thought in a proper manner. Child of Water killed the monster eagles, from whose feathers he made all of the birds. With the help of Lizard, he slayed the antelope that killed with its eyes. Each time Child of Water came safely home, White Painted Woman danced and sang. She taught him hunting magic, warning him not to mention the ordinary names of the animals while he hunted them.

    So White Painted Woman and Child of Water and Killer of Enemies made all of the People. Child of Water made the Indians and gave them the bow and arrow, game to hunt, wild things to eat, and all the best places to live. Killer of Enemies gave the White Eyes the gun, corn, and cattle. Then White Painted Woman and her sons left, perhaps going up into a cloud or up on the Sacred Mountain. They left behind the Gan Mountain Spirits to protect and guide the People, but they themselves went away, as Ussen had gone away, coming back sometimes only in dreams.

* * *

Every woman is a daughter of White Painted Woman, including Lozen, who was born within sight of the Sacred Mountain near Ojo Caliente where the People began. Her father was a leading man of his band, as was his father before him. And her parents, uncles, aunts, and all those who had responsibility for her set her feet early on the path. They held her to the four directions, offering her life to Ussen, seeking a blessing on her.

    They fashioned with ritual care the cradle board in which she remained until she could crawl. The shamans carefully selected and blessed the oak for the buckskin-covered frame and the yucca stalk for the crosspieces bent into half-moons and the canopy of red-barked dogwood stems, and the ash wood for the footrest and the bedding of wild mustard. Then they prepared amulets to dangle from the frame: a bag of sacred pollen, turquoise beads, and bits of wood split from a tree by a bolt of lightning. They held a feast when the cradle board was ready, dancing in a great wheel. They marked the face of the baby with pollen as a blessing and prayed she would live to outgrow the cradle board.

    She grew up in the usual way. Until she could crawl, she rode in the cradle board her mother either wore on her back or hung in a tree while she worked. When Lozen was seven, she began to ride horses, and her parents noticed early on that Lozen had a way with them. First she learned to jump up to grab a handful of the horse's hair so she could climb up the horse's front leg. Then she began to practice jumping onto a horse from the ground, first setting the horse near a hill so she could run and jump onto his back. She soon became one of the best riders in the band, able to control her horse with only her knees and a rope tied around the nose.

    She loved the rough games of the boys. All the girls of the band underwent hard physical training from the age of about eight, rising before daylight and running to the top of the mountain. After all, each of their lives depended on their legs and their lungs and their endurance—for they sprang from a band of warriors surrounded by enemies. And even though few women went with the warriors on raids, the People relied utterly upon them for survival. For the women gathered and prepared most of the food, made most of the clothing, and produced most of the things that enabled the People to survive. If their enemies attacked camp, the women gathered up the essential things and ran away with them.

    The elders did not neglect the physical training of the girls, knowing they faced as many dangers as the warriors. But even though Lozen learned everything expected of her as a girl, she also took a keen interest in the warrior training of the boys. Perhaps it was due to her position of leadership that she did this. Perhaps it was because she wanted always to keep pace with Victorio, her brother, who seemed marked for great things. Or perhaps it was because these things were simply in her nature. In any case, she made slings of willow branches to flick bits of mud at birds. She made herself a bow and arrow and played with the boys in the endless target practice games. She rose before anyone and ran always with the leaders. She never fell to the back of the group when they ran, where the men who trained them waited with switches to inspire the slowest of them. She was small, so she could not overcome the larger boys in wrestling and feats of strength—but she was fast, clever, and nimble. She often won the footraces, the games of tag, and the endless sessions of hide-and-seek. When they staged mock battles with stones or arrows without arrowheads, she dodged the arrows fired at her so skillfully that she was often among the last standing. She could creep about the camp with such care that even the seasoned warriors could not find her.

    It was good she learned these things, for the times in which she lived were like the early times of White Painted Woman, when monsters infested the earth and no place was safe.

    At the time of Lozen's birth, the leader of the People was a tough, grizzled, canny warrior named Juan Jose Compa. The Chihenne lived then mostly in the Animas Mountains. Some bands of Mexicans had come peacefully into the territory of the People, offering gifts and friendship if Juan Jose would let them establish a small settlement called Santa Rita, where they busied themselves digging in the ground like ants. The warriors watched the Mexicans warily from the surrounding hills, wondering at the way they spent themselves in the digging. The Mexicans had made slaves of Indians from other bands and drove those slaves ceaselessly to work in the caves in the earth.

    The Chihenne warriors were of divided council about whether they should tolerate the Mexicans in the heart of their land. Some of the young war leaders said the Mexicans were not to be trusted and it was disrespectful to let them dig in the earth, which was the mother of them all. The Mexicans were crazed for the golden metal, which was forbidden to the People by Ussen because it resembled the sun, which was an aspect of Ussen himself.

    Mangas Coloradas, a respected war leader, felt this wav. He towered over all the other warriors with a skill, reach, and cunning that made him untouchable in a knife fight. But he also had a great skill with words, which he could command like warriors in an ambush. But in this argument about the truce with the earth grubbers in Santa Rita, Juan Jose held sway—using the force of his personality and the edge of his reasoning to cut through the opposition. Juan Jose argued that the People must make peace with some bands of Mexicans or they would be hunted everywhere. He insisted that the Mexicans at Santa Rita would keep the peace because they wanted only what they could dig out of the earth. Moreover, the warriors could profit by trading horses and cattle and other things with the Mexican band at Santa Rita. In this manner, they could obtain guns and ammunition—and whiskey and mescal, which were much more potent than the sweet, mild tizwin the People made for themselves. This last argument convinced many warriors, who like Juan Jose loved the mescal of the Mexicans.

    No one had much concern when the Mexicans at Santa Rita invited the People to a fiesta. One of the men there was a good friend of Juan Jose, a White Eve named John James Johnson. He had come from the north, where some said there lived another race of people as pale as a grub under a rock. Often these people bristled with hair on their faces, like beasts. So Juan Jose led many of the People to Santa Rita where the Mexicans had barrels of mescal and piles of presents. At first the warriors were wary, watching the Mexicans and the rough-looking White Eyes who came with James Johnson. But the gifts and the mescal soon soothed their fears, so that when Johnson threw the covering off a pile of gifts in the center of the plaza, many people crowded forward, even warriors.

    But then the Mexicans and White Eyes uncovered some metal tubes mounted on wheels, which immediately belched smoke and fire and bullets. In an instant, the plaza was filled with the dead and dying. Juan Jose ran to Johnson, calling to him to stop the shooting. But Johnson pulled out his own gun and shot Juan Jose, which was the first example Lozen saw of the friendship of a White Eye.

    Lozen and Victorio and other people not already dead ran from the square, dodging through the Mexicans and Johnson's men, who were shooting even the women and children. Mangas Coloradas and a few of the warriors who had held back from the whiskey out of wariness fought back to give people time to run before retreating themselves. Then Johnson and the Mexicans fell upon the bodies of the dead and dying to cut away their hair, taking it like an animal's pelt. Some said the Mexicans sold the hair of the people they murdered. This was a thing abhorrent to the People, who feared the dead and the malevolent chindi spirits that lingered after a death.

* * *

Mangas Coloradas took charge of the survivors. He called upon relatives in other bands to help take revenge on Santa Rita. The People believed in revenge, for it demonstrated to Ussen their worthiness and made their enemies afraid to kill them. Usually warriors raided in groups of half a dozen for horses and cattle and goods, going quietly and killing no one. But when any man had been killed, his women relatives called on the other warriors to take revenge. Then they gathered up a hundred warriors and killed as many people as they could from the band, or the town, or the people of the murders.

    Mangas Coloradas undertook this sacred duty of revenge on the Mexicans. First he set out parties of warriors to ambush the trappers who hunted for beaver alone or in small parties in the mountains. Then he set out war parties to wait for the pack trains of mules bringing supplies to Santa Rita. When the Mexicans in Santa Rita noticed that the supplies had stopped coming, they sent out parties of miners to discover what had happened. The warriors killed these men as well. Sometimes they brought prisoners back to camp. Lozen was still a little girl, but she was old enough to learn what would happen to an enemy. The warriors tied their hands together, then set them out in the middle of the circle of spectators. Then the wives, daughters, and mothers of the murdered people killed the men. Sometimes they crushed them under their horses. Sometimes they cut them to pieces with knives. Sometimes they beat them to death with clubs. Lozen watched how it was done, remembering everything. Soon the Mexicans in Santa Rita saw they were trapped, just as Juan Jose and his People had been trapped in the plaza. So they abandoned Santa Rita and marched south. Many started out, but only a few left the land of the Chihenne alive.

    So the Chihenne had purified their land of the Mexicans, ending the desecration of Mother Earth and driving them away. The warriors continued to go south for horses and cattle, but the Mexicans only rarely dared to follow the raiders back to the shadow of the Sacred Mountain.

    Looking back, it can be seen that this was the last good time—the last free time.

    The White Eyes were coming, already, from the east.




Copyright © 2001 Jean Trounstine. All rights reserved.

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